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Top Stanislaus animal shelter job goes begging

County Supervisor Jim DeMartini says the shelter is 'overcrowded and run-down,' which makes it difficult to hire a director.
County Supervisor Jim DeMartini says the shelter is 'overcrowded and run-down,' which makes it difficult to hire a director. Modesto Bee

Help wanted: Director to manage a high-profile government department, supervising 40 full-time employees and a budget of $3.1 million. Opportunity to oversee construction of a new $10 million facility. Generous benefit package and a salary of as much as $124,842.

The job: Director of Stanislaus County's Animal Services Department.

Applicants so far: Few and far between.

"We are having a heck of a time getting anyone to even apply for the job," said county Supervisor Jim DeMartini.

The position has been open since former director Michael McFarland resigned three months ago. It had been open for nearly a year before McFarland was hired in June 2006.

Dave Young, a retired assistant chief from the Modesto Police Department, filled in as interim director before McFarland was hired and will do so again, starting Monday.

The shelter veterinarian's position is even tougher to fill. It has been open for more than two years, despite a salary of as much as $110,780. The county has advertised in veterinary magazines and at veterinary schools throughout the Western states, without luck.

A variety of factors affect the recruitment for shelter jobs, county officials say, from a national shortage of veterinarians to the run-down condition of the county facility and continuing controversy in the community over the shelter.

Pay doesn't appear to be the problem in the case of the veterinarian's job, said Monica Nino-Reid, county assistant executive officer. Other counties, such as Sonoma, have similar salaries, she said.

Mike Kline, a retired Modesto veterinarian, agreed. "The package they are offering is real competitive," he said.

A national shortage of veterinarians, which is more acute in the Central Valley, is a problem. Kline, who has served on the Stanislaus County Animal Advisory Board, said private veterinarian clinics in Modesto would hire three to six more animal doctors if they could.

Shelter medicine is a specialty that further narrows the field, and in an area with such a large overpopulation of pets, the job isn't very attractive, Kline said.

"If they are spaying and castrating all day long, they are not really putting to use their eight years of college," he said.

Nino-Reid said the county has advertised the job at veterinary schools in California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado, with no success. "There's more jobs out there than graduating veterinarians," she said.

The shelter is coping by using outside veterinarians for spay and neuter work and getting vets to work part time on a contract basis, Nino-Reid said.

Farming out the work is expensive, she added. The county spent about $275,000 last year for outside veterinarian services.

A private veterinarian comes to the shelter seven or eight days a month to do spays and neuters on a contract basis, Nino-Reid said. "It doesn't replace a full-time veterinarian, but it is a great help," she said.

Shelter comes under fire

The controversies that have surrounded the shelter in recent years may be a stumbling block for veterinary and management applicants. A civil grand jury report in 2005 criticized the care and treatment of animals at the shelter and called for the resignations of the director and veterinarian. Both subsequently left the department.

Animal welfare activists have continually decried conditions at the shelter, and a second grand jury complaint was filed earlier this year.

The director's job is stressful, and requires a high degree of diplomacy, Kline said.

"It takes a unique individual to work with a government agency, employees and animal welfare groups," he said. Trying to implement programs with limited funds and costly state mandates to deal with is another challenge, he said.

One possible recruitment strategy would be to combine the two jobs, hiring a veterinarian to direct the department, DeMartini said. That would allow the county to offer a bit higher salary, he said.

DeMartini said he thinks the condition of the Stanislaus shelter is a deterrent for veterinarians and potential directors.

"It's an overcrowded and run-down facility. It's running at 200 percent capacity; there are too many animals in each cage," he said. "The adoption center floor is caving in. It's just an old facility."

Veterinary surgery takes place in a small trailer on the site because that's the only place that can meet state standards for an animal operating room, DeMartini said.

That could change in a few years. The county has commissioned an architectural review for a new or remodeled shelter, due in early February. The county lists a new shelter in its capital improvement program at $10 million.

The new shelter hinges on the willingness of participating cities to pay their share of the cost, DeMartini said. Seven of the nine cities in the county use the shelter and would have to share in the cost based on the percentage of animals they send to it, he said. Oakdale and Turlock operate their own shelters.

Once the Board of Supervisors chooses a design and determines the cost for the shelter, those cities will be asked to participate.

In the meantime, the county is looking for a couple of good people.

On the Net:

www.stanjobs.org/index.shtm.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

CHRONOLOGY

  • JULY 1998: Paul Turner, Stanislaus County animal shelter director for nine years, retires.
  • JULY 1998: County hires its first full-time veterinarian, Deborah Greer.
  • MARCH 1999: County hires Michael Rodriguez as animal services director.
  • JULY 2005: Civil grand jury report criticizes care and treatment of animals at shelter, calls for the resigna- tion of Rodriguez and Greer.
  • AUGUST 2005: Rodriguez resigns.
    • Dave Young, a retired assistant Modesto police chief, is named interim director.
  • NOVEMBER 2005: Greer is fired. A search is launched for her replacement.
  • MAY 2006: Young retires as interim shelter director.
  • JUNE 2006: County hires Michael McFarland as director of animal services.
  • SEPTEMBER 2007: McFarland resigns. Another grand jury complaint about the treatment of animals is filed.
  • DECEMBER 2007: Young is brought back as interim shelter director. The search for a director and veterinarian continues.
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